Which is Right for You? An Online—or an In-person—RN-to-BSN Program?

RN to BSNMarch 14, 2017

When it comes to obtaining your RN-to-BSN, choosing the right education option is obviously a difficult decision. Just as choosing among your many options for colleges or universities takes careful consideration, the type of program you select should reflect your expectations, goals, and personal learning style. The good news is that today’s students enjoy options that were simply unavailable in the past. For centuries, learning and earning a useful degree involved face-to-face instruction and interaction in a bricks-and-mortar institution of higher learning.

The World Wide Web changed all that. Now, it’s possible to engage in distance learning conducted in multi-media-rich, virtual classroom environments with instructors and other students who needn’t gather in one physical space at one designated time. In fact, they may be located in different time zones.

And not only that, but much of the work required by an online program can be done at the student’s convenience, according to his or her schedule—not the teacher’s or the school’s. That means that students who must squeeze their education into already busy work/life schedules are far better equipped to reach their lofty goals of earning a living while simultaneously boosting their earning potential by earning more advanced degrees and/or certifications.


Deciding which approach is best for you involves a bit of soul-searching. Are you self-disciplined enough to keep up with required coursework and meet deadlines even though your schedule will be dictated solely by yourself? Or are you the type of learner who needs structure, and real-time interaction with other students and instructors, in order to thrive and succeed?

Many students who have gone the online learning route say that flexibility is the number one advantage of this style of learning. Most assignments, learning materials, and tests are available 24/7, for your convenience. Simply log in when you’re able, perform your required coursework, and log off. Learning resources and materials are usually also available online, at any time, so there’s no need to wait for a physical library to open.


Some students may discover, often the hard way, that online learning simply does not suit their personal learning style. These students discover that they learn best, and have rich learning experiences when they engage in face-to-face learning and real-time interactions with other students. These students may find they fare better at a bricks-and-mortar institution.

Objective Evidence

What does objective research have to say about the differences between online learning programs versus more traditional face-to-face learning scenarios? If you’d really like to take advantage of the convenience of an online nursing program to obtain your RN-to-BSN degree, take heart. The U.S. Department of Education published a comprehensive meta-analysis of studies examining the relative merits of the online learning model in 2010, and concluded, “…on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Furthermore, noted the study’s authors, “The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.”

Although it might seem as if online learning environments lend themselves to brief, rapid bouts of abbreviated learning, in fact, the study notes that the online environment actually provides the opportunity for more time spent reflecting on the material, not less. Surprisingly, “…online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face instruction,” the authors wrote.


The decision to further one’s nursing career by obtaining an RN-to-BSN degree is inarguably a smart move. But how one goes about it is a matter of personal choice. The decision comes down to self-awareness and self-evaluation. Are you the sort of student who needs real-time, physical interaction with other students and your instructors to achieve meaningful learning? Do you have the availability to devote to keeping up with a rigid classroom schedule, and the convenient physical access to classrooms that will be crucial to your success?

Or do you require the flexibility of an online nursing program, which will afford you the ability to tailor your schedule to your availability? Are you self-motivated enough to thrive in this virtual learning environment and keep up with required work? Only you know for sure which approach works best for your needs.